AUDITOR-GENERAL Odysseas Michaelides, as we have written in the past, needs to understand, at some point, that he is not the government’s overlord and he does not have the authority to dictate executive decisions as he has repeatedly tried to do. His job title is very clear – he is in charge of carrying out audits of state spending, revenue collection, the procedures followed by government departments and so forth.
He does not, however, have the authority to tell the executive what policy it should follow about housing ministries or departments as he has done in the case of the ministry of interior. The job of managing state finances belongs to the finance minister, subject to the approval of the council of ministers and, subsequently, of the legislature. We do not think the constitution gives the auditor-general the power to decide how the executive spends the taxpayer’s money and make value judgments.
In the case of the interior ministry, a decision was taken to rent a new modern building to house it, as its current premises in Nicosia are old – built in 1882 – dilapidated, dysfunctional and badly proportioned. It currently has space for 125 workers whereas there are 200, there is subsidence and a host of other good reasons for moving out. This would also allow the colonial, sandstone building to be fully restored and used for something else.
Michaelides objects to the rental of premises arguing in letters he has sent the ministry that this was not the best solution financially. There were not enough buildings of the required office space of 6,500 square metres to submit offers to the state, he said, implying the state would be unable to secure a competitive price. In the cost of the rent the value of the land was also included, he said, concluding that as the state owned so much land it would be more economically beneficial for the state to build the premises that would house the ministry.
The interior minister, Constantinos Petrides wants the ministry re-housed by next June. By next June the state services would not even have decided the architectural plans for the new building, let alone have invited tenders for the project and secured approval from the different departments. A government building might be ready in six or seven years, if not 10. Under the circumstances, it would still make sense to rent a building for the interior ministry on a 10-year contract.
In fact, the government has the power to rent a building for 30 years, without seeking the permission or approval of the auditor-general. His responsibility is to carry out an audit, after the deal is completed, to ensure the correct procedures were followed, in choosing the premises. The minister will reportedly go ahead with the rental plans which is the right thing to do. It is time Michaelides was made to understand that executive decisions are not part of his competencies.